For the third consecutive season, Somerset finished sixth in the County Championship in 2015, and for the second time of those three the cider county escaped relegation in the final match. As discussed in a previous article, it was poor batting that was the chief reason for this – too many collapses and not enough runs on the board for the bowlers to bowl at.
That is not to say that Somerset’s bowling is exempt from blame, however. There were poor periods when the attack seemed to go missing for a session (see Chester-le-Street when Durham were allowed to reach 314 from 101 for 6) and the attack often failed to capitalise when the batsmen did score enough runs (see Middlesex’s remarkable chase of 402 at Taunton).
As always it is necessary to delve deeper into the statistics to make sense of Somerset’s bowling in 2015. Similar to the batting, there was a home/away divide – Somerset’s bowling average at home was 40.08; away it was 27.80. Naturally, the Taunton wicket was a factor in this, as shown by other stats too – on average, the opposition scored 341 in the first innings at Taunton, compared to 302 away from home.
In 2014, Lewis Gregory was Somerset’s best bowler, taking 43 wickets in just nine matches and earning the player of the season award. He started 2015 where he left off, with five-fers in the each of the first two matches at home to Durham and Middlesex. After that he bowled steadily, taking one more five-wicket haul against Middlesex at Northwood and ending up with a slightly disappointing bowling average of 34.57, and an economy that was the worst of the bowlers – 3.85. He perhaps bowled a little slower than previous years, with back problems continuing to dog him and which could rule him out of some of next season.
Instead, it was Craig Overton who took over Gregory’s mantle of best bowler. He took 43 wickets in eleven games at an average of 21.69, bowling quick and finding plenty of movement when conditions suited. Away from home he was most potent, taking 33 wickets from seven games at a stunning average of 14.70. At home improvements are needed – his average at Taunton was 44.80, taking 10 wickets from four matches. If he is to make the step-up to international level, he will need to start finding ways of taking wickets on flatter pitches.
Of Somerset’s talented pack of young quicks, it is Craig’s twin brother, Jamie, who remains the one with the most potential to improve. He broke through in 2013, unsettling batsmen and taking plenty of wickets with his extreme pace. He became wayward in 2014, taking just 10 wickets from 7 matches, so 2015 was a big year for him. Stats-wise, it wasn’t a great season – he took just 16 wickets from eight games at 38.25, but he consistently troubled batsmen and was unlucky not to take more wickets. 2016 will be huge for him – the potential is all there, and he can’t go much longer without turning it into serious results, can he?
2015 was Alfonso Thomas’s last season for Somerset. He played just seven Championship matches, but still managed 29 wickets at 25.34. Rumours swirled of a rift between him and Director of Cricket Matt Maynard, with Thomas being left out of the side towards the end of season before returning for a farewell game against Warwickshire. If a rift is not the explanation for his absence, it seems odd that he was left out for four consecutive matches despite taking regular wickets earlier in the season, including a five-for and two four-fers. A possible factor could be his poor form in the NatWest t20 Blast, which led to his removal from the captaincy for the Royal London One-Day Cup. At 38, he was never going to be able to play much beyond 2015, but as a bowler with vast knowledge of Taunton conditions and still doing a decent job, maybe he could have been kept at the club for 2016 in a Championship-only capacity? I hope we do not regret letting him go.
This means Tim Groenewald will be the experienced head in the bowling attack next year. 2015 was a reasonable season for the ex-Derbyshire man, with 30 wickets from nine games at an average of 32.53. At first he perhaps looked a little out of his depth in Division One, but nine wickets in the match against New Zealand was the start of a good run for him where he took 23 wickets in 4 matches. He tailed off towards the end of the season, and had an occasional tendency to go missing for a session. He was one of the less economical members of the attack, going at 3.58 an over. He has work to do for next season if he wants to play a large role in Somerset’s Championship side.
Somerset’s side in 2015 featured two all-rounders, stalwart Peter Trego and new signing Jim Allenby. Trego was more useful in the wicket-taking side of things, with 26 compared to Allenby’s 18 from a similar number of overs. But Allenby was significantly better economy-wise, going at 2.51 an over compared to Trego’s 3.52. Whether both players are necessary in the same side is questionable, however, and Roelof van der Merwe’s arrival for next season could well result in one of them – probably Allenby – dropping out of the first-choice team.
The spin side of things…well, was a bit of car crash for most of the season. Abdur Rehman returned to the club for a full season with high expectations after taking 27 wickets in four Championship games in 2012. But early season pitches proved unsuitable for his left arm spin, and he was soon dropped from the side then de-registered to allow Chris Gayle to play in the t20 Blast. He returned to the side having worked on some technical problems with Jason Kerr, but continued to prove ineffective. He was allowed to leave in July, finishing with a bowling average of an eye-watering 71.90 with just 10 wickets. He couldn’t even keep the runs down particularly effectively, finishing with an economy of 3.48.
Jack Leach replaced Rehman as the spinner for the remaining five Championship games, and took a wicket with his first ball against Worcestershire. He was steady over the next few matches, taking few wickets but slowing the flow of runs far better than Rehman. In the final game of the season he exploded to life on a helpful Taunton wicket against Warwickshire, taking 7 first innings wickets, including the one that secured Somerset’s survival, then 4 more in the second innings. Tom Cooper’s rarely-seen off-spin took 5 more to end Somerset’s season on a winning note.
For Somerset’s bowling to improve next year, quite simply we need all our bowlers to play at their best, consistently. Gregory and Jamie Overton can certainly improve, and we must hope that Craig Overton has another stellar season. A replacement has not been signed for Thomas (though there is still time), so Groenewald will be by far the most experienced member of the attack. Also, perhaps Maynard feels the youngsters have now been playing for long enough that they have enough experience to replace Thomas? Gregory made his debut in 2010 after all.
Craig Meschede’s future has yet to be decided but he may choose to go again with Somerset rather than sign for Glamorgan permanently; if he stays at the cider county he, along with Josh Davey, should get chances to impress this season. The need for them is compounded by possible England call-ups and Gregory’s back problems.
The stats show that Somerset must find ways to take more wickets on flat Taunton pitches. It’s not as flat as it was but could once again prove a hindrance to Somerset winning matches next season. The Hampshire game is a particular example where the wicket prevented victory – Somerset had a first innings lead of 390 but could not force a win, failing to bowl Hampshire out in more than five sessions. Somerset bowled well in the second innings but perhaps failed to make the batsmen play enough.
It seems unlikely we’ll be signing any bowling reinforcements for next season, so we’ll have to make do with what we’ve got. If the bowling unit as a whole is to improve next season fitness will be vital, and Maynard did a decent job of keeping players fit in 2015 by rotating the quicks in Championship cricket. If everyone stays fit and plays to their potential, combined with a (hopefully) improved batting line-up Somerset should have a decent 2016 in the County Championship.